Chasing Tigers in Bandhavgarh








We saw the Wild boar with her piglets..cross the jungle road . Nice sight only if we had eyes out for these creatures too. (Sanjay_Austa)

We saw the Wild boar with her piglets..cross the jungle road . Nice sight only if we had eyes out for these creatures too.



(click on photos to go to gallery)

( In the october of 2010 I travelled to Bandhavgarh. I have been to almost all Tiger Reserves in India but the tiger has eluded me everywhere. So too in Bandhavgarh where I was the only one in the group who did not see the mighty beast. This travelogue was published in 2010)

Whenever you enter a Tiger Reserve you are told – enjoy the rest of the forest and the other mammals and birds too. But that’s impossible. Everyone has eyes out only for the tiger. Even the official guide who comes along with you in the modified open-air green gypsy, has no patience for the chital, the sambar, and the wild bore. Until you have seen the tiger you see nothing. The driver wont stop for the gamboling langurs or the dancing peacock in the forest but will bring the jeep to a sudden halt for any pugmark on the soft jungle road or to show you tiger scratch marks on the  tree trunks or  two week old dried tiger turd along the way.

More so in  Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. This is one Tiger reserve where it is said you have to be really unlucky not to have a tiger sighting. The sightings here are the best because Bandhavgarh has the highest density of tigers among all parks in India. This has made some of the Bandhavgarh tigers  celebrities and they  go by a name and their feline personality and mannerism are well documented.  “This is B2’s territory. He is the largest male tiger we have had in Bandhavgarh’’,  says our guide stooping over a male tigers pug marks.

As we drive along in the thick jungle, I notice  our guide  hardly cranes his neck to look around. Instead he cocks his ears and listens in. Indeed so, for this Sal forest is so thick with post- monsoon undergrowth, that the tiger could be sitting behind a bush two meters away and you would not see him. But it’s said the jungle talks as the tiger walks. The langur’s relay an alarm from the tree tops and the chital which likes to keep close to the monkeys for this reason,  scamper away. The chital themselves have an alarm call  but they are easily frightened and will raise an alarm on seeing any unfamiliar animal. It’s the bark of the sambar deer that the guides really rely on. Because  the sambar barks only when it actually spots a tiger.

And then the big elephant strides along making us in jypsies look so puny and inadequate. The Elephant goes where the jeeps can't and is the best way to spot a tiger but they come expensive. (Sanjay_Austa)

The chitals  predictably give few false alarms and several of the tourist gypsies pile up and wait with baited breath expecting a  tiger to emerge dramatically from behind the bushes.  But the sambars don’t bark. They wallow neck deep in the meadow swamps chewing  lazily on floating weeds.

In approximately the three hours you are let in the park each morning and evening the same drama plays out.  Back at the lodge you don’t have to ask anyone whether they had the sighting that day. Those that did will be beaming and jumpy, showing off the pictures they took on their DSLR’s and talking about the  `out of the world experience’ they had. Those that don’t have long resigned faces. I join the latter and  hope for a better sighting next time.

Bandhavgarh National Park may offer more tiger sightings – except for the very unlucky ones like me- but its deep in the heart of  Madhya Pradesh. If you are heading here from New Delhi be ready to brace for the 16 hour train journey followed by three hours on road. From Bangalore its almost 25 hours by train. The less adventurous tourist therefore favour the easily accessible Ranthambore Tiger Reserve.

However what Bandhavgarh may lack in accessibility it more than makes up in  local culture and choice of accommodation. Kings Lodge where we stay is only a few kilometers from the park. It is well integrated with the jungle around it. Local materials are used creatively to give the lodge a  local flavor and elegance.  Individual cottages are  set apart from each other and the jungle undergrowth allowed to grow between them. As we walk  from our cottage to the dinning room wild bore  scurry across the path.  In the evening there is a cultural show with the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh who dance and singing for us.  For a more adventurous stay, the King’s Lodge has couple of tree houses and as the name suggests the rooms are  built around the upper branches of the Mahua tree.

Sun streams in through the thick Bandhavgarh forest, Bandhavgarh National Park (Sanjay_Austa)

Sun streams in through the thick Bandhavgarh forest, Bandhavgarh National Park

Bandhavgarh has more to it than what the tiger obsessed tourists like me care to see. Bandhavgarh fort is one such. It sits high on a plateau overlooking much of Bandhavgarh Tiger reserve.  Until a year ago the jeeps took you right till the top but now they drop you off near the giant supine Vishnu statue from where you have to make your way up. This is the spot where I have watched a tigress and her cubs have a drink on a documentary on Discovery Channel a few weeks ago. But our guide is blasé.   He offers us no tips on what to do should we surprise a tiger on our climb. The prospects therefore seems one in a million. However the climb is rather steep and littered with stone statues of Vishnu in his various incarnations.

Bandhavgarh was  declared a National Park in 1968 and since then it has a total spread of 448 square kilometers with a core area of 105 square kilometers. Once it was the hunting preserve of the Maharaha of Rewa. Those days it also had the rare white tigers which are found only in zoos now. I hope that won’t be the fate of the royal bengal  tigers too.

How to get here: Bandhavgarh is 880 kms from Delhi and 1432 kms from Bangalore.  You can fly into Jabalpur the nearest airport from both New Delhi and Bangalore. From Jabalpur,  Bandhavgarh is 220 kms by road. Trains from Delhi go till Katni (95kms from Bandhavgarh) and Umaria (34kilometers from Bandhavgarh). From Bangalore one can take the the Swarna Jayanti upto Jhansi and then take Kalinga Utkal Express and get down at Umaria to take the onward road journey.

Where to stay: If you want authentic jungle experience Kings Lodge in Bandhavgarh is a great place. It mixes local rustic flavours  well with metropolitan luxury and comfort.

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